India’s democratic rights organisations formed an 11- member fact finding team to investigate the factors that resulted in the Lakhimpur Kheri Massacre. The team visited the area from October 28 to 30, 2021. After talking to local people, families of the farmers who died during the incident, their lawyers and eyewitnesses, including those whose statements were recorded by the police, the Association For Democratic Rights and others outlined the background, timeline and what followed after the massacre.
The team concluded that the October 3 incident must be investigated while considering the events in the preceding month, the context of land relations and concerted attempts to communally divide citizens.
Terai region has a long history of peasant struggles with rights over land being the central issue. The report asserts how land reforms are meant to empower the tenants instead of giving more power to the big landlords. WhenDalits, Adivasis and others were dispossessed of their lands, it was used by the ruling party representatives to create a communal wedge between the landless and landowning communities. Sikh farmers, living in the area since the 1940s were also antagonised, especially once they joined the nationwide farmers protest.
Both Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra and his son Ashish incited hate against these farmers by stating that “Khalistanis were operating in the name of farmers” and that the movement was “infiltrated by Babbar Khalsa separatists.”
Similarly, the report began the incident’s timeline from the Kisan Mahapanchayat organised by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) on September 20 and the Krantikari Kisan Union (KKU) and Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) protest on September 25 when people showed Mishra black flags in Palia.
In response Mishra mocked the protesters and at a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gathering said, “I just want to say one thing to such people: behave yourself or else we will discipline you in 2 minutes. I am not just a Minister. Those who know me would also know that I do not run away from challenges. You will have to leave Lakhimpur.”
This speech sparked the October 3 protest at Tikunia village where Ashish Mishra allegedly ran over four farmers and local journalist Raman Kashyap with SUV vehicles. Recent SIT reports stated that the incident was not an accident or sudden occurrence but a pre-planned action against farmers.
Further, the fact-finding report also condemned the role of the police as reprehensible.
“The police sided with the offenders, facilitated their entry and escape from the scene of the crime, and the police is found to be peddling lies… and misinformation that is perpetrated by the State prior to the peaceful black flag protest, during the protest and after the brutal incident,” said the report.
The report also questioned the use of Section 144 in stopping the movement of people, farm leaders, press and political party representatives from reaching out to families.
“This practice must be challenged and the arbitrary restrictions on assembly and movement must stop,” it said.
As per interviews with locals, the police should also have informed protesters about the termination of Deputy CM’s programme to land in Tikunia for the Banvirpur event if they had this information a day prior to the incident. By keeping this information from farmers, the police and local administration contributed to letting the tension build in the area.
The team further noted that the police failed to help in providing timely medical care despite crowd control protocol mandates for first aid and training to efficiently transport injured for medical treatment. The police failed to assist in providing all this.
Family testimonies also blamed the poor state infrastructure and health services for the loss of lives. The aggrieved said local elected representatives like Mishra should have developed proper hospital facilities in the area but failed miserably in this duty. The incident has nowadays created an atmosphere of fear in the area.
Lastly, the team condemned the protesters’ confinement to a narrow stretch of less than 500 meters through barricading. The report said that this made farmers an easy prey for the speeding vehicles which entered the stretch and mowed down farmers.
“The precision with which this happened points to pre-planning,” it said, endorsing the SIT’s stand.
In light of all this, the fact-finding team reiterated farmers’ longstanding demand for the sacking of Mishra from his ministerial post. The report argued that his past and the unconditional power he enjoys in the current regime allow for a high likelihood that the investigation will be tempered, subverted to his and his party’s advantage.
“The impunity of the state must be challenged through a due process for which it is important that a free and impartial inquiry happens,” it said.
Therefore the report demands that the local police also be investigated for their role in the entry and escape of the criminals from the scene of crime. It is noteworthy that the police permitted the possession of legal weapons by those who have a criminal history. The report also challenged the overuse of internet shutdown and Section 144 by the present regime to silence victims and called for executive and the judiciary scrutiny. Further, until the case is disposed of properly, the state must protect witnesses and allow them to depose and live lives without fear.
Lastly, the team also noted the dubious deaths of BJP workers like Shyam Sundar Nishad and said that these deaths must also be probed impartially so that “the guilty don’t go scot free and the incident is not blamed on the dead to save the powerful accused.”
The full report may be read below:
Lakhimpur Kheri killings were planned: SIT
Lakhimpur Kheri killings: Kashyap family’s plea for separate FIR against MoS denied
Lakhimpur Kheri case: SC directs UP gov’t to “upgrade” SIT with non-native higher-grade officers
With thinning patience, SC recommends HC judge to monitor Lakhimpur Kheri probe
Lakhimpur Kheri killings: Two more farmers arrested for alleged lynching of BJP workers